Working with a Christian advisor doesn’t mean you have a Christian plan.`
If you’re like me, you want to live for Jesus in everything you do. Understanding the differences between secular financial planning and Christian financial planning is really important if we’re going to succeed. So, what’s the difference? Is there even such a thing as Christian financial planning? Is the process different? I think it’s appropriate to give this some thought because it’s easy to get this wrong.
It’s easy to think that if I work with a Christian financial advisor, I have a Christian financial plan. But, think about it, how could that be true?
Some might say the key for Christians is how we invest. We shouldn’t invest in companies that promote alcohol, gambling, pornography, and things like that. And, while it’s important to be careful about what we support through our investment decisions, investment strategy isn’t the same as financial planning.
Some might say the main difference for a Christian is found in our giving. We should give to our churches and funding Christian efforts. While this is important too, where we give is not financial planning.
It’s common to think that the big thing for Christians is to stay out of debt. The borrower is a slave to the lender (Prov 22:7), right? And, while it is good to have the right view of debt, many secular financial advisors will also recommend living with low or no consumer debt.
The financial planning process is generic.
The planning process for Christians and for everyone else is the same. The process is generic – except that the process for Christians should be saturated with prayer.
Financial planning is looking at the important financial issues of life, and how to best handle them in a connected, all-things-considered way. So, given our resources and priorities, how should we handle living expenses, saving for retirement, college costs, estate planning, taxes, life insurance, and everything else? Instead of looking at all these things in isolation, let’s put together a “business plan” for our personal finances.
Doing this can help us understand how things might work out if all of our assumptions hold up. But the problem is, looking into the future means many assumptions. And these assumptions, like inflation or income or living expenses or investment returns, are constantly changing and are seldom accurate. So, it’s important to review and adjust regularly. The thought is, if we adjust regularly, we have a better likelihood of actually reaching our goals.
BUT HERE’S THE KEY – A good financial plan will also force us to think about our priorities because we’re looking at everything together. Usually, there’s not enough money for everything, so we must evaluate our options and make smart choices. This is one of the reasons it’s important to work in the context of a plan rather than just tackling issues one by one as they come. So, the financial planning process is the same for everyone but it’s peculiar to each situation.
The reality of any financial design is that it reflects the values and priorities of the individual. And, an advisor can’t be in charge of your priorities. We all make financial decisions that echo what we believe. And this is where the difference is. While the process for everyone might be the same, for the Christian the values and priorities should be different.
Here is a verse that you might hang over your planning, Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…(Philippians 1:27). And hopefully we believe that the gospel is worth everything.
Three ways Christian financial planning is different
Christian financial planning is unique and wonderful because we should see the gospel reflected in it. As the gospel grips us and we dive into the Bible, we should respond to God’s call to steward our finances, and change the way we think about money. As we develop a desire to reflect the value of Jesus in everything we do, our financial plan will look very different from the secular version.
So, here are three ways that a Christian financial plan is Christian:
First – our financial planning should be gospel focused. Through faith in the person and cross-work of Jesus, we grasp a different treasure – God himself. The gospel changes our future and our understanding of the reason we’re here now. It’s about living with Jesus here and living for Jesus here. We should be about showing his value in everything we do.
And since the gospel, and all that Jesus is for us, is now the foundation of our lives, our financial plan will reflect the values and mission of Jesus in every component. A Christian financial advisor can empathize and encourage, but you must understand your priorities. Our lifestyle, retirement goals, giving, savings, college thinking, home and car purchases, and everything else will reflect who we are in Christ. The gospel will reorient our priorities for the sake of Jesus.
Second – Christian financial planning should be prayer saturated. Since earthly values are always attractive, it’s easy to move toward false treasure in the way we think about money. The temptation is to compromise. So, we must pray if we are to win the battle. Christians pray about what’s important to them, and God answers prayer. Often, the reason we don’t pray is that we want our agenda and not God’s. But if living for Christ in our finances is vital, we’ll pray. And if we pray, God will work.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5 (NIV)
Third – Our planning should be faith oriented. Living out the gospel will stretch us because it means we’re following God and depending on him for the outcome. We don’t depend on money. We have an unshakable foundation in God and God’s promises. Jobs can vanish, health can decline, markets can disappoint, but God will always be with us. Living lives of faith, in our financial planning, means that money does not carry the day, God’s purposes and promises do. We trust in God and not in money.
So, let’s look at three examples of how this might look:
Example #1 – If you’re in a situation where you’re anxious about your financial future, be careful. Sometimes, in situations like this, it’s easy to assume the answer is a job change or a second job – and that might be appropriate. But we must not neglect God’s vision. Be sure to ask questions like: How is God using me in my current job? Would a second job take me away from my ministry to family or church or neighbors or coworkers? Is my financial concern legitimate or does greed play a role in how I make money-decisions? Should I change my spending?
Lean on and follow Philippians 4:6 – …do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Example #2 – Let’s say that you’d like to increase you’re giving to your church, or missions, or to an organization that cares for those who have nothing. It’s easy to focus on the amount you’ll be giving away rather than on the glory of Jesus in your giving. We should focus on the biblical truth that you have been saved in order to be gospel witnesses (Acts 1:8), and you have been rescued in order to be zealous for good works (Eph 2:10; Titus 2:14). And one thing is for sure, we are to keep our lives free from the love of money, and be content with what we have, because Jesus will never leave us (Heb 13:5).
Example #3 – Let’s say that college decisions are approaching for you or your child. And we all know how much college can cost. We can easily get caught up in wrong motives when it comes to college. When the future of a child or the pride of a parent are connected to any decision, the biblical perspective is often left at the door and following God is a secondary thought. Faith will put God’s principals first while we trust in his faithfulness. We need God’s agenda and not the agenda of this culture.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33
Each of these three examples connects to financial planning. Christian financial planning is not simply consulting with a Christian financial advisor. And it’s not simply investing in the right mutual fund, or giving to the church, or staying out of debt. While all of these things can be good, Christian financial planning is connecting the work of the gospel in us to every aspect of our financial lives. It’s thinking through our planning for the glory of Jesus in everything.
How is Christian financial planning different?
Financial planning for the Christian is fundamentally different because our driving motivations are (or should be) different.
How is a Christian advisor different?
While the planning process can be generic, someone who professes to be a Christian advisor should help clients sort through their priorities from Jesus-first, biblical perspective. Even though the client should be in control, the advisor can assist in goal-setting, strategy recommendations, that will serve Kingdom purposes.
Chris Cagle has an article, 5 Lies Christians Tell About Money, that may be helpful.